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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

UN ambassador quarrels with White House over sanctions

Nikki Haley hits back at White House officials who said that she was confused about measures against Russia

The dispute between Mrs Haley’s team and the White House had been playing out largely behind the scenes since the initial comments. AP
The dispute between Mrs Haley’s team and the White House had been playing out largely behind the scenes since the initial comments. AP

The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, on Tuesday fired back at a Trump administration official who said she was suffering from “momentary confusion” when she announced new sanctions against Russia were imminent, saying: “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.”

A striking intra-administration quarrel splayed out in public when National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow told reporters during a briefing in Florida that Haley “got ahead of the curve” when she said the US would be slapping new sanctions on Russia on Monday in retaliation for the country’s support for Syria’s Assad government after its latest suspected chemical attack.

Mr Kudlow said additional sanctions are under consideration, but have yet to be implemented, and said of Mrs Haley: “There might have been some momentary confusion about that.”

Mrs Haley had said on Sunday during an appearance on Face the Nation that treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin would be announcing new sanctions directed at companies associated with Syria’s chemical-weapons programme on Monday, “if he hasn’t already”.

But Monday came and went without an announcement.

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On Tuesday, in a statement to Fox News, she said: “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.”

The dispute between Mrs Haley’s team and the White House had been playing out largely behind the scenes since the initial comments. The White House has been struggling to explain her remarks amid reports that Trump put the brakes on the new sanctions. Several administration officials have disputed that characterisation, saying she was out of the loop.

One senior administration official said that, under the plan conceived last week, the sanctions would have been announced on Friday night, at the same time US, French and British forces launched a missile strike on President Bashar Al Assad’s chemical-weapons facilities. But the sanctions were not ready in time for Mr Trump’s Friday night statement, so they were delayed.

The official said a decision was then made to announce the sanctions as an answer to Russia’s response to the strikes. But that plan was re-evaluated and then put on hold over the weekend as it became clear that Russia’s response was less robust than anticipated.

On Capitol Hill, house speaker Paul Ryan applauded the administration Tuesday as having “moved miles in the right direction” on Russia policy.

“Not only did we scuttle the reset, not only are we now sanctioning Russian citizens, not only are we sanctioning Russian oligarchs, we’re sanctioning Russia itself. We have so improved our policy with respect to Russia, far more hawkish, far more realistic,” he said.